The Spice Island, Sri Lanka
Today spices are used mainly to flavour food. In medieval times,
however, spices played a more important role as food preserving agents.
In the absence of fridges and freezers, people used spices to preserve
meat during the long winter months. Before the 15th century, the
spice trade was in the hands of Arab traders. Spices grew in
abundance in the east and the Arabs took them to the Mediterranean ports
via Constantinople and then overland to the West. The route was
long and spices were therefore a costly commodity. When European
navigators found sea routes to the East, they broke the Arab
monopoly of the spice trade. In Lanka, the Portuguese replaced
the Arabs in the spice trade. But they did little more than bleed the
spice growing areas. When the Dutch took over from Portuguese, they
tried to improve the spice lands of Lanka. One such area was
Kurunduwatte or Cinnamon Gardens - Colombo 7. They employed the 'chaliyas'
who were experienced cinnamon peelers to peel and process the cinnamon
bark before they took it to Europe.
"The whole of its coasts are covered with branches of cinnamon trees
brought down by torrents & heaped up like mounds on the shore. They are
taken without payment by the people of Ma'bar & Mulaibar, but in return
for this they give presents of woven cloth & similar articles..."
A large number of condiments have been used to season, flavour &
aromatize curry dishes of Lanka
Quality of Sri Lankan Cinnamon makes it the finest in the world.
Cinnamon is of many uses ranging from cooking to embalming to an
ingredient in top quality perfumes. While used for embalming royals in
Egypt, Cinnamon was sprinkled on funeral pyres of kings of the east. The
top quality cinnamon is pale brown, thin and pleasant in fragrance.
Black mustard seed is very pungent & acrid. It is used whole,
powdered or finely ground, in everything from pickles & chutneys to
meat, fish & vegetables dishes.
One of the most expensive spices available, this plump, three-sided
pod contains three clusters of dark seeds which have an aromatic
fragrance. An exotic addition to rice dishes & confection, especially in
the Sri Lankan pudding, Watalappam
This colour of liquorice, it's sharp, sour taste is used to flavour
and thicken fish gravy, meat & vegetable sauces. Aggod substitute for
this spice is Tamarind paste.
Quality cloves are rich reddish-brown & large. They are really
undilated flower buds. Use with discretion. An aid to digestion. Proven
excellent remedy for toothache.
Cheap yet quality spice. It has the same colour as saffron. Truly
one of the marvellous medicinal spices of the world.
Karapincha (Curry leaves)
Always used fresh throughout the island since available all over.
Dried or dried & grinded could be used.
The ripe seeds are basic ingredient of spicy dishes.
Sera (Lemon Grass)
Fresh Sera is used to flavour meat and fish. Powder is used to spice
The fruits of the nutmeg tree produce two different spices. Nutmeg -
Though widely available in the island not used generally for cooking in
spite of its quality to improve the flavour of a curry. Mace - The
lacy membrane covering the nutmeg that has been ground to powder.
A pungent & distinctive flavours that help make curries.
Best bought whole & you can grind before use.
Maduru (Sweet Cumin)
Used in sweet dishes & various alcoholic liqueurs.
This hard brown, square-shaped seed with an unpleasant scent needs
only a small pinch to flavour curries.
Velliche Miris (Red dry chillis)
Ripe chillies may be cream, yellow orange or even purple-black &
easy to dry in the sun or in a slow oven. Used whole, powdered & freshly
chipped in the same dish.
Sinhalese up to the time of capitulation to British in 1815 had an
indigenous way of rice and curries which made use of Ginger &
Black Pepper to season curries instead of Red Chillies. Today, with
the nation recognizing the value of Red Rice (rice of which
nutritious brown husk is retained) in preventing diabetes,
and making a habit of preference to same, the positive attitudes towards
disease preventing spices / vegetables & Ayurvedic medical
treatment gathering momentum, getting used to consume more of herbal
teas & herbal porridges, perhaps time is ripe for the
Sinhalese to return to Ginger & Black Pepper too cutting down biting
Red Chillies (Capsaicin- from Latin "to bite") to size.
Jean Carper (USA), in her best selling book, Food your miracle
medicine, remarks that contrary to popular belief, chilli peppers do
not harm the stomach lining or promote ulcers. However Chandra
Edirisuriya (Sri Lanka) argues excessive use of dried red chillies
could lead to liver diseases. This is in line with common knowledge in
Sri Lanka that red chillies ought to be used in moderation. After all,
shouldn't all be tempered with moderation? Then again, the Thais,
renowned capsicum guzzlers testify that hot chilli peppers are clot
busters. What's your poison?
Used in Asia for centuries to various ailments.
An all round wonder drug sans Achilles heel, used to treat an
array of ailments since the dawn of civilization. Ayurvedic medicine
considers Garlic of medicinal qualities second to none of the spices.
Western medicine categorizes garlic as a blood clot fighter of
Achilles class. What's your class honey? A 1981 study of the diets
of 15 countries by researchers at the University of Western Ontario
found that those nations with higher garlic consumption had lower rates
of heart disease.
on photo to enlarge